"Are you sure, Mulder? I mean, are you really, really sure?" Langly asked. He listened for a moment, then nodded. "Ok, I'll get in touch with the others and let them know. Thanks for your help. We owe you big time." The call, combined with the information he had been able to garner in the past few hours, was a significant step in the right direction. Setting the phone back in its cradle, he turned to the computer in the far corner of the small, dingy room. "They're just going to love this, he muttered to himself.
Sitting down, he began to compose an email to Frohike and Byers, knowing that they'd check in from their locations at 10 a.m. as scheduled, if at all possible. He wasn't too sure about Byers, though. Wherever the hell Hawley was, he was certain that they were still on analog lines. Probably had those old fashioned switchboards with patch cords and human operators too. Maybe even party lines. He cringed at the sheer technophobia of it all. Hicks.
Object located 0830. Mobile. PA bearing south, heat seeking. Memory backup confirmed. Probable target beta. Clear. :Loki:
Even the email was risky, but they all had years of experience bouncing their communications through everything but Mulder's suspected alien base on the dark side of the moon. If the mail was by some chance intercepted, a trace forward or back would be next to impossible. Besides, risk was what they did. Langly kept trying to remind himself that this was really no more dangerous than anything else they did on any other day. He quickly encrypted the message and sent it, consigning the information to the great bit bucket in the sky.
JANUARY 9, 2000
SOMEWHERE IN DELAWARE
Frohike made his scheduled morning check-in and picked up Langly's message. Timmy had been located in Pennsylvania, memory somehow restored, and heading south, probably for their HQ. Heat seeking: Landau had been asking about them. A lot of good that would do him. They'd spread his photo and his Judas story from here to Timbuktu. There wasn't a hacker on the planet who'd touch him with a ten meter cattle prod. Langly was still safe. So -- they were the likely targets, not Susanne, despite Byers' fears. Frohike didn't find the thought particularly comfortable, but the fact that their basement office was shut down and secured with no one there to be found did ease his mind somewhat.
He didn't see a message from Byers or Susanne. This concerned him, but there was at least a ten minute window to account for unsynchronized clocks or other minor problems. He'd add his own "ok" to the loop and check back a bit later to make sure they were alright.
Confirm. Clear. :Baldur:
He had to chuckle as he signed his code name for this escapade. They'd pulled names from Norse mythology out of a coffee can. Baldur the Beautiful. A delicious irony. But there was that unfortunate death thing associated with the name. Frohike didn't think of himself as a particularly superstitious man, but it still made him nervous. Langly's code fit him to a tee, though; god of chaos and mischief.
Byers had been saddled with the improbable handle Fenris, the bound wolf who would bring about Ragnarok. He would have made a much better Tyr, Frohike thought, the god of justice who was willing to sacrifice his hand to bind the wolf and save the world.
The boy was too fucking noble to live, and it got them all into trouble much too frequently for his taste, but you had to love him. Of course, Byers had chosen the code for Susanne: Freya. And how could his poor, smitten comrade have possibly chosen anything except the name of the goddess of love and war for his amorous obsession? Fenris and Freya. All hell was certain to break loose. Maybe even Ragnarok. Encrypted and sent. He poured himself another coffee and waited.
JANUARY 9, 2000
"HOLLY FITZGERALD" RESIDENCE
Snow had been falling since long before Byers had been very pleasantly awakened an hour ago. He had been unable to enjoy any time with his seductive alarm system, however, as he'd been working frantically from the moment he got out of bed. The power and phone had gone down during the storm. Susanne had assured him that this was nothing out of the ordinary, and in fact it happened with annoying regularity. Two feet of snow had fallen so far, and there was no real sign of it letting up soon. The conditions were near-whiteout. They wouldn't be moving at all until "Holly's" neighbor Frank came by with his snow plow to clear out the driveway and help dig out the cars.
She doubted it would be anytime before two that afternoon. It might even be tomorrow, if the snow kept falling and Frank didn't finish with the few others he plowed for that lived out this far. Without electricity, there would be no shower, but at least Byers was able to get cleaned up with gloriously hot water from the wood stove, and breakfast was a definite possibility.
"I've gotten pretty good at camp cooking in the last few months," Susanne told him. She insisted that he dress warmly, with a thick, dark green wool sweater over jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt and his usual button-down work shirt.
Byers had tried the cell phone, hooking it up to his laptop modem, but due to the geography this was simply not an option. He might as well have been calling from the North Pole. The good news was, the satellite transmitter the Gunmen had arranged to have installed here to monitor Susanne's safety was concealed in a fake boulder close to the house. On the down side, without power, it would be impossible to send out a signal.
She had no generator. People around here mostly didn't have them, she'd explained. They had woodstoves and fireplaces, and lots of kerosene lamps, just like their parents and their grandparents, and all those farmer ancestors before them. When things like this happened, they either got out their snow plows and set about clearing things up, or they settled in for a good read. It was just the way of things here. Whatever happened, there would still be cows to milk, chickens to feed, or a job in Pittsfield, North Adams or Greenfield to get to. The hard land and dire winters had bred a particularly tough, patient, and taciturn sort of people. "If we survive this mess, we're getting you that damned generator," Byers stated flatly.
He had hooked up their car batteries so that he could power her satellite dish and the much smaller transmitter in order to check in. It took longer than he expected, as he'd had to dig out both dishes from the drifts. It was well below freezing, and as he worked, his hands had become almost too stiff to complete the job. All that shoveling, then fiddling barehanded with small bits in the windy arctic weather had worn him out. Now he needed to build a breadboard as well, to make sure that his laptop would be able to connect successfully with the ludicrously rigged transceiver he'd constructed. Chewing gum and string, he thought. Thank God he was good at that sort of thing. He sat glumly at Susanne's kitchen table with kerosene light supplementing the dim daylight through the windows, surrounded by a chaotic scattering of small tools and electronics detritus while his hands slowly thawed. They hurt like hell.
"Where the hell's the sonic screwdriver when you need it?" he pondered in a mumble. Susanne set a steaming mug of tea on the table next to him, brushing a few components to one side to clear a space. He wrapped his hands around the mug, then thought better of it. The mug was too hot. Or maybe his hands were still far too cold. He rubbed them together briskly, trying to ignore the burning sensation.
"The what?" she asked, puzzled.
He looked up at her and laughed dryly. "Sorry. Geek joke." He held up his soldering iron. "Without electricity, this normally indispensable piece of equipment is utterly useless." He dropped it back onto the table in mild disgust. "Generator. We're getting you a generator. I don't care if I have to carry the bloody thing here myself."
"I don't know about that," Susanne said. "It seems to me that there's a pretty simple solution to your immediate dilemma." She set a trivet on the wooden table, took a lidded cast iron frying pan to the woodstove, and filled it with coals. With a smile, she returned and set it down near her startled lover.
"Here," she said, wrapping the cord tightly out of the way and putting the metal and ceramic end into the coals. She covered the pan, lodging the iron into place so that it would heat quickly. Then she set a potholder over the lid handle.
Byers looked up at her with astonishment. "You are a genius," he said. A huge smile opened his face and he held his cold hands over the pan, soaking up the gentle heat. "This solves a lot of problems. Low tech. I never would have thought of it." He shook his head. "Are you sure you're not related to MacGyver?"
She laughed, then rubbed his shoulders and buried her lips in his soft brown hair. It was a wonderful sound, her laughter. He found her presence and her touch incredibly comforting. It would be so easy to get used to this.
SOMEWHERE IN MARYLAND
Byers had missed the morning check-in and the evening one as well, but Langly had scanned the weather in western Massachusetts and southern Vermont on a NOAA site. The entire area was socked in with a blizzard, and power was down in patches throughout the region. The prediction was that the snow wouldn't let up until at least midnight or perhaps even mid-day tomorrow. He was getting very worried, and hoped that the downed systems were the only reason there had been no check-in so far. Apparently, pretty much everything from Albany east to Springfield was at a standstill.
Fortunately, Frohike was still safe. There had been no further word from Mulder on Timmy's whereabouts, although Langly was convinced that he was casing their office in DC by now, hoping to catch them unawares. His inquiries to their sources hadn't yielded any further information either, effectively dropping Landau from the radar. Langly had spent the last twenty minutes drinking coffee and picking idly at some left over fried chicken while giving wavering attention to something exceedingly dull on tv.
Now he was pacing restlessly, considering checking in again on the off chance that Byers had somehow managed to get online. Distracted by his worries and the quiet drone of the tv, he did not notice the doorknob slowly turning.
Landau's entrance, however pulled him into taut and immediate focus.
"Fuck," Langly said.
"Fuck yourself," Timmy replied, a vile grin spreading across his face.
"I... I thought you were heading for..."
Timmy snorted. "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition."
Langly eyed the pistol in Timmy's hand. "I don't suppose you'd have a Soft Cushion on you?" he asked, purely from reflex. The sheer normalcy of the banter froze his blood. Perhaps Timmy could be talked out of his revenge. Sure, he thought, and the passenger pigeon is on the verge of a comeback.
"God, you're still annoying." Timmy closed the door behind him and advanced. Langly backed away until he bumped into the desk, his eyes riveted to his enemy. He groped around blindly behind him, hoping to find something even vaguely useful, but not expecting such a miracle.
"Um, Timmy, ah... can't we talk about this a little?"
"No." Landau closed the distance between them and struck Langly sharply across the face with the butt of the pistol, knocking him to his knees next to the desk. Langly yelped, startled, a wide purple welt blossoming along his left cheekbone. He raised a hand to his face, checking for blood. "Get up." Timmy grabbed Langly's hair with his empty hand, dragging the taller man to his feet.
"Hey! Take it easy, I'm cooperating!" Langly struggled to retain his balance, dizzied by the blow and wobbling from the hard pull on his hair and his sudden verticality. He remembered how Byers had reacted after similar treatment, recovering quickly after his collapse at Timmy's pistol whipping and managing to save all their lives with a surreptitious shot of the AH chemical. Langly decided that his friend had a much clearer head on his shoulders than he had given him credit for at the time. If he ever saw him again, he'd have to congratulate Byers on his capacity for cheerfully resourceful mayhem.
"You really ought to get this cut," Timmy said, casually slamming Langly against the wall to the left of the desk.
Langly felt his lower lip split against a tooth, tasting blood, and heard the sharp, decisive snap of the left lens of his glasses as it broke. He didn't dare open his eyes.
"Long hair is always a liability in a fight," Landau continued. He holstered the pistol and took Langly's shirt in both hands.
"God, Timmy, don't..."
Landau jerked Langly forward, kneed him hard in the gut, spun him out and slammed him into the wall again, jamming the lanky blonde's right shoulder joint painfully with the impact. "Oh, I don't intend to kill you Langly." He chortled, enjoying himself immensely. "Not yet, anyway." Through the pain, Langly's stomach clenched and he felt himself go cold all over. He wasn't sure if it was shock or fear, but at this point he really didn't think it mattered that much. He felt a warm trickle of blood down his face, from a cut over his eye where his glasses had opened him during the previous slam. He tried to reach out and grab Landau, but his right arm wouldn't respond and he flailed blindly with his left. "Stop stop stop!" was all that came out of his mouth.
"You're going to give me a little information," Timmy said, his voice like arctic ice.
Langly opened an eye; the one without blood from the cut seeping into it. Timmy's face was all bared teeth and squinty eyes. Langly nodded, trying to postpone another slam.
"Whu... what d'ya want?"
"Byers. Where is that rat bastard?"
Langly shook his head. "Dunno," he gasped.
"Liar." Landau slammed Langly's hip against the edge of the desk, doubling him over and driving him down to his hands and knees when he bounced from the force of the blow. "Where is he?"
Through the searing pain, Langly denied knowledge again.
"Don't play dumb, Ringo. I know all three of you far too well to believe this 'don't know' bullshit of yours." Langly was dragged to his feet again. You know where both of them are, and probably Modeski too, unless I miss my guess."
"Nuh-nuh-nothing," Langly stuttered.
"Stupid fucker. Do you want to die right now?"
Langly shook his head in violent denial, making himself nauseous and even more dizzy in the process. His knees wobbled. Landau held him up by the t-shirt, gripped by two tight fists. "Spill, girly-man."
Langly gritted his teeth. Landau slammed him against the wall again, smacking the back of his skull hard on the crumbly, painted wallboard. Timmy was pleased to note that Langly's head had left a lovely, bloody dent in the wall. "I won't shoot you," he promised. "I have a knife. If you don't tell me where that tight-assed, anal-retentive narc pal of yours is, you're going to die a slow, ugly death." He reached one hand into a pocket, brought out a razor-sharp stiletto and flipped it open.
Despite himself, Langly drew a sharp, terrified breath. "Toronto," he gasped, "Byers is headed for Toronto."
Landau drew the knife slowly along Langly's limp right arm, opening a long, shallow cut. It was oozing blood and would be quite painful, but cause very little actual damage. He licked his lips. Langly wailed. "I know you're still lying to me, blondie. You'd tell me anything right now just to make it stop, wouldn't you?"
Timmy threw Langly face down onto the floor. The impact smacked his nose on the hard wood, bloodying it and knocking the breath from him, and he struggled frantically for air. Landau appreciatively contemplated Langly's quivering form at his feet. He smiled broadly and kicked the gasping, bloodied hacker, neatly snapping a rib. All Langly could manage was a whimper. "We'll continue this later," Landau assured him.
Wiping the blood from the blade onto Langly's shirt, he closed it and put it back in his pocket. He shook open a curled plastic riot cuff and roughly secured it around Langly's wrists. He made sure it was tight enough to be painful, but not so tight as to cut off circulation. "Right now, we're taking a drive. Get up."
"Nopleaseno..." It was barely a whisper.
Landau grabbed Langly's bound arms and dragged him to his knees, wrenching his already injured shoulder. Langly moaned. "I said, get up."
Langly nodded and struggled but couldn't find his feet through the dizzy grey blur that occupied most of his conscious mind. It took all the steel he could muster not to scream. "Can't... please, don't."
Timmy grabbed Langly by his hair and yanked him to his feet. "This way." He shoved the nearly blinded man toward the door.
Langly staggered forward, eyes filled with involuntary tears from the punishment his face had just received, trying simply to stay conscious and upright. He was vaguely aware of the crunch of his glasses under his feet as he moved. With a quiet thunk, he bumped into the wall next to the door of the room.
Landau opened the door and steered his captive into the dark, graffiti'd space.
"Watch those stairs."
Langly cautiously slid one foot in front of the other, hoping not to fall down the two flights of stairs in the condemned warehouse that had unsuccessfully concealed his safehouse.
Landau's hand was tugging one of his arms, and he leaned as lightly as he could manage against the unstable railing as he started downward. It hurt to breathe. His nose was bleeding, his nausea was barely under control, every single inch of his body was screaming for him to collapse, and he knew for a fact that this late at night, there was no chance he'd be seen being dragged away. Shouting for help would be useless. The only creatures likely to notice were the rats. He had no coat on, and the air was near freezing in the open areas inside the deserted building. He briefly considered the pleasures of death by hypothermia.
Once the warehouse doors were reached, Timmy opened them and shoved Langly outside. He stumbled but regained his precarious balance before he fell. He had managed to blink away some of the blood and tears from his eyes during his stagger down the stairs, and he saw the blurred form of a VW beetle parked a few feet away. It was that ubiquitous orange that all beetles seemed to come in, patched and primered here and there, much like the Gunmen's van. Without his glasses, he couldn't even see the license plate, much less read it.
Landau shoved him and he staggered up to the tiny, rounded car, leaning heavily against it, not wanting to fall into the slushy puddles on the gravel of the parking area. Langly shivered violently. Timmy opened the trunk and shuffled a few things around.
"In there?" He wheezed and squinted at Landau. "I'll freeze to death before you get ten miles."
"Oh, I have no intention of letting you die on me. Not until I kill you." He felt a swell of pleasure rising in his chest at the naked terror in Langly's bloody face. So far, his plan was moving along nicely. The temporary memory loss hadn't damaged his skills or effectiveness at all. He dragged Langly to the front of the bug and shoved him down into the cramped space. Langly landed hard on a cushion of blankets, barely missing a nasty knock on the head from the edge of the trunk.
Landau opened and squeezed several instant heat packs and tucked them around Langly's tangled body, then spread a couple more blankets over him. "That should keep you until we get where we're going."
Langly could already feel warm spots forming where the packs had been placed, and figured that Timmy was probably right. He wouldn't freeze. At least he was off his feet and could rest for a little while. And the longer he stayed alive, the more likely it was that Frohike would figure out what had happened and come looking for him. He didn't know if he had a concussion, but thought that staying awake was probably a really good idea.
He ducked his head as the lid of the trunk slammed, plunging him into
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